Principle #5: The Poles are experiencing the effects of climate change at an accelerating rate.

An icon image of a polar bear

5A: Arctic sea ice is declining at a rapid rate.

  • 5A-1: Scientists predict the Arctic will be largely free of sea ice during the summer months within 30 years.
  • 5A-2: The receding ice cover affects the Arctic food webs and the global ocean circulation, however, the long-term impacts are unclear.
  • 5A-3:  Melting sea ice does not contribute to sea level rise. This ice is already floating in/on the water, therefore the water level stays the same as sea ice melts.

5B: Antarctica is experiencing less sea ice loss than in the Arctic – for now.

  • 5B-1: Antarctic and Southern Ocean air temperatures are predicted to rise in the future, threatening ice stability.

5C:  The Western Antarctic Peninsula (WAP) is the fastest winter-warming region in the world (about 10 times faster than global average)

  • 5C-1: Antarctic ice shelves are floating extensions of the land ice.  They are critical to ice stability in Antarctica, forming a buttress to hold back the ice behind them.  Antarctica is surrounded by ~45 ice shelves that are susceptible to a warming atmosphere and ocean.
  • 5C-2: The warming Southern Ocean flows close to the WAP, causing melting at the ice shelves and the base of glaciers. This accelerates the WAP glacier melt and collapse.
  • 5B-4: Increased glacial melt affects the WAP food web.

5D: Warmer Polar Regions have a moister atmosphere, which leads to more precipitation.

  • 5D-1: Increased precipitation, falling as snow or rain, can affect Polar animals.
    • 5D-1a: In Antarctica, Adelie penguins’ breeding can be disrupted by heavy snow cover and unseasonable rains.
    • 5D-1b: In the Arctic, precipitation is predicted to increase by 20% by the end of the century, mostly in the form of rain.  Increased rain will further melt snow, ice and permafrost, restricting land animals nesting sites and ability to forage.  Increased rain will also cause “freshening” of the ocean water, which will impact the marine ecosystem.

5E: Effects of climate change at the Poles is directly connected to changes in sea level around the world.

  • 5E-1: The amount of water frozen to create the Greenland and Antarctica ice sheets and glaciers helps regulate our current sea level.
  • 5E-2: Sea-level rise is caused by melting ice sheets and glaciers, combined with the thermal expansion of seawater as the ocean warms.
  • 5E-3: Global coastlines are home to 80% of the world’s population, which are being threatened by sea-level rise.
  • 5E-4: Many Polar species will face migration, adaption, death or extinction in a changing climate.

5F: The Poles are locations of increasing Geopolitical issues.

  • 5F-1: Decreasing ice cover in the Polar Regions will result in emerging geopolitical issues including: increased military presence, territorial boundary/sovereign rights issues, exploration and harvesting of natural resources (animal and mineral), increased tourism, failing infrastructure and more.
  • 5F-2: The increasing human presence in the Polar Regions compounds existing concerns (pollution, overuse of fragile infrastructure, harvesting resources).